December 2012 – Poinsettia or Noche Buena: A Real Mexican Native

By Paul Sanders • December, 2012

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

Can’t you just feel it, see it, and hear it? It is in the air, a little feeling of Navidad. A string of lights here, a decoration there, and holiday music in the background. We have had enough unpleasantness. It’s been a long hot summer; enough already, let’s move on. It is like the song from Auntie Mame, “We need a little Christmas, NOW.”

Of all the holiday signals of better things to come and approaching festivities, nothing brings it closer to mind than the appearance of those outstandingly red poinsettias showing up in the markets and viveros (plant nurseries). Even before the Christmas trees arrive, these plants are ready to adorn your home with spectacular color.

Yes, Noche Buenas really started here in Mexico. They are from the Euphorbia family, which means they contain a white milky sap. The most popular is Euphorbia Pulcherrima or the Christmas Flower. Here in Mexico, it is known as Noche Buena. These plants that are usually seen here locally are of the single red type; however they do come in doubles, triples, round balls of red called “Flaming Spheres” and many shapes in between. They also come in a creamy yellow often called white, as well as pink, salmon, variegated and spotted.

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

These are hybrids of the original traditional plant. Most of the doubles and spheres are not suitable for potted plants to be used in the home. They require an outdoor exposure and will bloom only after they reach a height of 2 meters or more. Also available but seldom seen here are the hanging basket type, miniatures that are no more than a few inches high, and trees that stand about one meter tall. New styles and colors are added each year as these plants become more and more popular. The newer varieties are also hardier for indoor use and their color is more intense.

Paul Ecke Poinsettias just over the border in San Diego County, California, is the largest supplier of Poinsettia plants in the world. He is responsible for many of the new colors and styles. They can supply plants in full bloom any time of the year, anywhere. I have used his plants for many floral photo shoots for the holidays, and these shots were done in July and September. They are always at the peak of their beauty, and are shipped anywhere in the world. Seeing potted Poinsettias in blossom in the middle of the summer in North Carolina or Mexico City is a treat, and totally unexpected.

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

Poinsettias are not poisonous. The sap can be irritating to skin and stomach for some people, but most find it harmless. Pets usually leave them alone because they taste terrible (so they tell me).

To bring these plants into bloom for the Christmas season, they must be forced into bloom with darkness. They must have long nights to bring out the color. The bright red of the plant is really not the flower at all but a bract. The actual flower is the tiny yellowish bud in the center. When choosing a good plant, look to see if these tiny buds are closed and not showing their yellow stamens. If the flowers are missing all together, the plant is well past its prime, and not a good choice. The tighter the buds the fresher the plant and the longer it will last. Look for plants with good, lush foliage. If it is showing signs of neglect like falling leaves or discoloration, it is also not a good specimen to choose.

The bright red bracts will discolor if they are placed in full sun, especially if they are wet.

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

Poinsettia or Noche Buena Flower

Plants that are grown outside are the exception. They love the sun. Keep the soil moist but not wet on your holiday plant, and never leave them standing in water. They like a warm bright room, and do like fresh air, but not drafts. Our sun here in Puerto Vallarta is so strong on clear days -even in December that it is best not to put them near an open window where they can burn.

To save the plant for another season, cut it back when the flowers and bracts start to shed. Hold back on the water until it starts to show new growth. If placed in the garden or patio, it most likely will not bloom at holiday time, but later in the year.

If you have no life and are adventuresome or bored, and you want your potted Poinsettia to bloom on your schedule, here is what you must do. You can even have flowers for Easter if you want, just move the starting date. For December blossoms, start in September or the first part of October, put the plant from last.

Paul Sanders

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